Blog Archives

Witnessing Something Changes You: Sermon for the 2nd week of Easter

Witnessing Something Changes You

Acts 5:12-32

 † I.H.S. †

 May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ change you, as you witness and bear witness to His Love.  Amen!

Change?

 As people, we remember critical times in our lives.  For some can remember where they were on December 7, 1941, or for some others, November 22, 1963.  For my generation, it was where we were when the Challenger, blew up, and all of us are marked by the date 9-11.  Others have dates that are more personal, our birthdays and anniversaries, for my parents, April Fool’s Day, 1965 was pretty important as well.  It was the day where they picked up an infant from and adopted him.

We remember those days, because what we witness those days changed us. IN some cases, like the birth and wedding for the better.  Other days, like 9-11 change us forever, bringing us anxiety and re-calling exactly where we were, a memory we share with others who witnessed the same event, even if they were halfway around the world.

I imagine Thomas had one of those experiences, on a day, like this, just a week after the resurrection. The day that changed everything in his life, that took him from mourning into great joy, and awe, and a feeling of being overwhelmed.
We see that in the life of all the apostles in the first few chapters of Acts, as they go from men cowering in fear, to men who are willing to be jailed and beaten, to suffer and even die, because of what they witnessed,

Because when you witness something, good or bad, stunning or traumatic, it changes you….

And God promises to change us, because of what the apostles witnessed, and bore witness too.  When that is revealed to us, it will change us, in the same way.
Change? I don’t need change

With all the anxiety regarding change, I think most of us don’t see the need for change.  More precisely, we don’t want to see the need for change.  We are willing to settle for life this way; we grow content in it.

Change might shake it up!  We might lose the things we count on; we might be asked to make a sacrifice, or have some habit and sin removed from our lives.   We might have to give up that resentment, or that pain that we hang on to, that gives us an identity.  Change means giving up the sin that traps us, especially the sins that have such a hold on us that we try to justify, the sins that appease our insecurity, that help us avoid our anxiety, that put the blame on others.  That gives us the illusion of safety, of security, and instead of choosing God’s comfort, we simply choose to be comfortable.

There is a big difference there, between being comfortable and being comforted.  Being comfortable with life, often means we are comfortable in our sin.

After this week, I will take being comforted anytime, for the presence of God that brings us that comfort, that peace, a true refuge in time of troubles, that is what Thomas experienced, that is what Peter and the other apostles experienced.

A comfort that lets you get up and start moving again, sure that you are walking with God, who is in charge, who does love you.

I don’t see a change?

If we don’t see a need for change, that is a problem.  It is likewise a problem when we see the change that God is making in your life.  Sometimes it seems slow, ponderously slow.  We wonder if God has made changes in our life if He is living up to His promises.

There are days it seems like nothing changes, we still live in the midst of trauma, many still live with their lives confused and challenged by finances or our relationships. We still might have days where we wonder where God is, and why things aren’t perfect.

Why don’t we have the faith of Peter and John, and the rest of the apostles?  Why aren’t we like the giants of the faith?  I mean how many of us would have the faith to continue to live our life of faith, when under great pressure?

Would you go back to the temple – to teach those who wanted to know more about God?
As a church, I’ve to see you do that, maybe not under the pressure of jail, but facing great discomfort, and caring for each other, and with those who came to mourn.  We’ve gone back to the same pain, so many of us have felt, because others were there, needing the peace that we knew.

We’ve changed, we don’t hesitate, we run to that battle, even as the apostles ran to the temple.  Because people need us, because people who go through this life without knowing God’s life, don’t even know what it means to be able to trust God, to depend upon His faithfulness.  Everything gets set aside, to help other’s know Christ’s peace.

As I watched people caring for each other on Tuesday, I saw this.  But so did a lot of our guests,

It is no less remarkable than the apostles escaping the jail and finding themselves in the courtyard of the Temple – sharing the blessing of Jesus to those who would hear, and be amazed.

So is the Holy Spirit!

So how does this happen, this transformation, this change that happens in believers? The very last verses tell us and gives us the hope of such a change continue to happen in our lives.

I say continue, because the change is occurring, or perhaps, we are becoming more comfortable with God in our midst that it is easier to see.  Verse 30.

The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed him by hanging him on a cross. 31 Then God put him in the place of honor at his right hand as Prince and Savior. He did this so the people of Israel would repent of their sins and be forgiven. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.”

God, the Father allows Jesus to die, He raises Jesus from the dead, and Jesus ascends to the Father, and to a place of honor and glory for one reason, so that we, the people who wrestle with God, (for that is what Israel means) will become repentant, that we would be changed, and made holy as He forgives us.

This work of God is something we talked about last week, on Thursday when Chris shared, and on Good Friday as Bernie and I shared, and on Easter Sunday.  It sustained us on Tuesday, and others on Thursday, Friday and yesterday as some of us gathered with Mark and Susan.

This death and resurrection of Jesus, to pay for our sins, to call us back to God we know is true, we have witnessed its effect.  But so has the Holy Spirit witnessed it, for it is this truth that the Holy Spirit joins us to Christ’s death and resurrection in our baptism, and we walk given it, each and every day.

As we become more aware of it, as we look to Jesus, as we are aware that, Alleluia! He is Risen!…. and therefore….

And what that means, what the Holy Spirit is confirming in us, is that The Lord is with you!

And that changes everything, even as it did when Thomas cried out, My Lord and My God!… AMEN!

The Transformation of Easter: Part 1 The Change to Our Church

Featured imageHow Easter is Transforming Our World!
The Change to Our Community

Acts 4:31-35

IHS

May the Grace of God our Heavenly Father and our Risen Lord Jesus strengthen you, even as it transforms us.

Change versus Transformation:

I am about to tell you something is coming, and I want your reaction to the word I use.

What is coming, what will happen to us here at Concordia is “change”.  You will not be able to resist it, you can’t stop it.  Resistance is futile.

If you are like 90 percent of the population, hearing that might make you a little anxious, or you might wonder if there is anything that can be done to stop it.

Some of you might even begin to wonder what is changing.  Some will automatically look and think of negative changes.  Some of you might be thinking of things that could change for the positive.  And what is ironic – you might be thinking of the same exact thing!

For the rest of Easter, we are going to be looking at the changes that happen to a church, matter of fact that are happening at our church.

But to alleviate the stress, the worry, the concern, how about if I use the word transformation instead?  A transformation so complete, we might not even recognize ourselves, or our church, when God is through with us!

Today’s observed transformation

In our reading from the Book of Acts this morning, we see an incredible description of the change that will, no, the change that is happening to us.

It talks there of a church, the people that trusted in God that became united in both their heart and their mind.  In every part of their existence.  They were one in the way they felt, in the ways they thought. They desired the same thing; they reacted together to what was going on, and they identified themselves, all 8000 of them or more, as sharing the same life.

Luke tells us the uniqueness of this church; they were of one heart and mind to the extent of sharing everything they had with each other.  I love the way the word pictures describe this; everything is held to be common, nothing special and set aside.

Therefore, if there were people in need, the rest of the people found a way to meet that need.  No one lacked, because how can you let your people go without?

What a transformation we see happening to the people who trusted God!  Who continually heard that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead! (wait…)

I mean, what kind of people would liquidate their wealth, to help others, people they barely know?

The Change to our Norm

If we look at what God does to his people from the perspective of “before” the cross, the change seems frightening, and the description of the early church doesn’t make sense.

Give up what is precious?  Trust people with what I treasure?  Give up my security, to make sure others feel secure?

We talked about this when we talked about the Lord’s prayer, and the idea that we trust God to provide everything we need.  It takes faith to live like this, an incredible amount of faith.

You can’t listen to the questions that would raise doubts about our fellow man.  You can’t wonder if people need, or if they will abuse the blessing, or whether someone will be there for you, when you need the help, instead of being able to provide it.

You need to reach out and trust rather than be cynical, you have to have the wisdom to discern need, and the compassion to meet the need.

Our nature, even on the good days hears this and takes it as an obligation.  That God requires us to change our hearts, to reach out with this kind of love, making the sacrifices as proof of our faith.

And if that is our belief, we shall surely fall short.  We need to change…

Our old nature that was once in bondage to sin, Satan and feared death calls for us to protect ourselves, and what we’ve earned, what is ours by right.  That leads to sin, as we struggle to get what isn’t ours, or we overlook our neighbors, and what they need.

The change is not so much in what is individually ours.  Instead, we see what is God’s, and treasure that more than anything else.

The Beauty of the transformation…

Though the vision cast here in Acts is that what it looks like financially to be of one mind, I think we’ve seen here, at Concordia, what it means to be emotionally of one mind.

Paul talked of this too, when he told the church in Rome,

Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16  Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Romans 12:15-16 (NLT) 

We’ve become “of one mind” here. We share deeply in each other’s joys, the moments when someone is baptized, or when someone has good news.  We’ve shared as well in each other’s sorrows and griefs, stood beside each other in moments of grief. We’ve cried with each other often; it seems as often as we laugh together over meals we have shared. 

That is the transformation that God works in His church, in His people.  That we respond to each other.  To meet each other’s needs before thinking about ourselves.

It’s come about not by force, but rather by focusing on God’s love for us, the love seen in the cross, and reflected as we share in His body and blood. By sharing in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It’s what happens when we look to Christ, and as Paul says in 2 Cor 3, the Holy Spirit changes us, transforms us into Christ’s image, as we reflect His glory.

This change that happens isn’t our work, just as it wasn’t the idea of the apostles.  It happens when we realize the love of God, revealed in the death of Christ for your sins, in his burial, and in the fact He is risen from the grave.

He has given us life, now and for eternity, living in the glory of His love, with one heart, with one mind.   AMEN.

The Church that Needed to Repent and Be Reconciled to God’s Will

The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove, surrounded...

The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove, surrounded by angels, by Giaquinto, 1750s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Acts 11:1-18

In Jesus Name

May you be encouraged, and rejoice as God shows you the love and mercy He has given you, as you witness it given to others.

I wonder if Peter was reading from the prophet Jonah?
As Peter starts to describe the way in which salvation had come to the Gentiles, I’ve wondered something.  What was it he was praying about?  What had he been meditating upon?

Was Peter working through the lessons he had been taught over and over and even a third time by Jesus?  Was he considering the incredible grace of God that restored him each time he sinned, each time he tried to play God?

I wonder if he was reading the book of the Old Testament prophet Jonah…who would likewise be called to a place, to bring word of God’s love?  Was he being sent to bring  the blessed gift of repentance to a place his upbringing said wasn’t eligible or worth God’s mercy. Was he going to a people that his culture said was beyond God’s love.

Peter as always, struggled with where God was leading him to serve.  It seemed that the third time God gave him the message; he actually “got” it.  That is the story of chapter 10, which he recounts to those who were struggling with what he did here.  This chapter isn’t really about what Peter did, to share God’s love with the Gentiles, it is what he did to help his fellow Jews to grasp how deep that love of God was, for every person of every ethnicity in the world.

It is amazing to me that Peter didn’t take on the criticism directly, nor did he take it personally.  Instead, he simply focused on what God had done, and laid out the story as it happened.  As Peter did this, led by the Holy Spirit, people changed.

 

Two Groups to Win…

Peter Is summoned to talk with those concerned about “those people” receiving the word of God. They are concerned about Peter compromising the gospel by fellowshipping with them.  There will be a conversion here, a needed one, as people are reconciled to God’s will.

It is not the obvious one though, though that too is marvelous!  The work of God is so incredibly evident there, as those who were far from God, and in bondage to sin.  It is amazing and yet unexpected to hear that God was already working in them, that an angel miraculously intervened in Cornelius’s life, and he sent officials to bring Peter to him, for Peter was to bring them the message that would save him, and all of His household.

How amazing!  That God work so bluntly, so clearly, so undeniably! By the time the vision is over, the words of God were burned into Peter’s heart.  “What God has made clean, do not declare common!”

How incredible that this became true – not just about bacon and lobster, but about Cornelius and all his family!  How amazing that those who were thought to have no hope, were given hope, were given life… were given the presence of God in their lives.

Which leads us to the second “conversion”, the second group that needs to be reconciled to God.  They weren’t as far off, these who wanted this issue examined thoroughly.  It was a foreign idea to them that God would work with these foreigners.  It would be a difficult transition – they needed to see more than just information about God, they needed to see His heart, they needed to understand His will that no one should perish in bondage to sin.  They needed to be reconciled to God, to come in line with His will….
And the Holy Spirit did that – again through the God’s love shared patiently through Peter.

The Critics Silenced…

God’s consistent will seen

 

In the midst of Peter sharing what God had done, as he explains that the men where there, that will of God is hinted at – when he says “And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction.  That word is the same as the word criticize above – again it means to thoroughly examine things – except in this case, no examination, no criticism.  Peter, inspired directly by God’s Spirit, fully reconciled to God’s word by the vision goes…to bring words of life

 

He starts sharing about God’s love – He starts to lay out the gospel, to share with them the incredible love of God demonstrated through the incarnation, through the life, death, resurrection.  He didn’t even get to the part about baptism, before it was evident that this was a God moment, a time when the Holy Spirit was creating life and faith and transforming them, bringing them to repentance.  The very same things that happened at Pentecost – with the Spirit falling on the people of God, with the word being proclaimed, with people’s heart’s being opened and healed as they were washed and cleansed, as they received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

God’s consistent love – showing a depth and dimension unforeseen despite the prophecies, despite the promises that foreigners and immigrants would be welcome. God’s consistent love – so praised in the Old Testament, made evident even for those who were wrongly considered “far off”.

They realized God meant it when he said the Messiah would be a light to all nations,
They realized God meant it when He promised Abraham that all nations would be blessed by his descendant,

They realized Jesus meant it when He said that His blood would be shed on behalf of many, for the forgiveness of sins.

I love the way Paul would describe it,

 

19 you are no longer outsiders or aliens, but fellow-citizens with every other Christian – you belong now to the household of God. Firmly beneath you in the foundation, God’s messengers and prophets, the actual foundation-stone being Jesus Christ himself. In him each separate piece of building, properly fitting into its neighbour, grows together into a temple consecrated to God. You are all part of this building in which God himself lives by his spirit. Ephesians 2:19 (Phillips NT)

 

Peter, the one who was a bit too quick to speak, who overreacted, took his time, laid out what God had done, and when it was complete, there was silence. The doubt dropped to the floor. No one could object to God’s work. They had neither the strength, nor the desire.  Just as Peter realized, when he sad,

17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”


and the party began began.

The Reason for Praise

I have to admit – I love the spontaneous praising and glorifying of God, as these circumcised Jews realize that God loves the long time nemesis – the people of the world. The barriers are down, we are one…
That is what they are realizing, it is what we need to realize. It is what can and should break down every barrier between people – this idea that God has made us one, that God has granted to us “the repentance that leads to life.”

You see, there is something special in watching a brother or sister become part of the Body of Christ, as we did last week.  There is something incredible about seeing that – or those “aha’ moments as we gain a little in understanding more about the depth of the Lord’s passionate love for us.

This is the work God does in both Jews and Gentiles. The change is what Luke describes with the word repentance here – this transformation of both our heart and will, redeeming us from our being oppressed by sin, and reconciling us with the will of God.  That is the work of repentance – a total transformation of our heart and mind, both are used in the prophecies to describe God’s work.

And God has transformed, He has granted this repentance – this change to living a transformed life in Christ.

We see it here, when a child, or a youth, or even someone who has lived 8 decades comes – and is given the promise of that change as they are baptized into Christ!

We are witnesses to it happening here as well! As we gather at the family feast – where God our Father provides us with the Body and Blood of Chris! As He again grants us the power of the transformation, He has promised.  For it is here that He reconciles us with His will, as He reconciles us together as one people – no matter our place of birth or whether the times since can be easily measured in days, years, or decades.  He reconciles us together no matter the language we speak, or have spoken, no matter our height or weight or anything else.

We are One, in Christ.

And that is something so glorious – for God has transformed us all into His people. To Him be all the praise, all the glory and honor.

AMEN?

 

%d bloggers like this: